The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and a number of other higher education associations believe that a new proposal—which The Cardinal Newman Society urged the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to withdraw—would “fundamentally damage the role that colleges and universities have played for hundreds of years,” according to a joint letter.
The letter, representing several higher education associations and about 4,300 colleges and universities, was submitted by the American Council on Education (ACE). It states that the proposed framework for political campaign activities of 501(c)(4) organizations should not be adopted for 501(c)(3) organizations because it would hinder a college’s role in “encouraging civic learning and democratic engagement.”
“Under the proposed restrictions, any ‘public communication’ which clearly identifies a candidate within 30 days of a primary and 60 days of a general election would be barred as impermissible candidate-related political activity,” the letter explains.
The letter recounts how colleges have traditionally been places where “debates, speeches, forums or panels” have taken place. Under the proposed regulations, “student learning would be harmed, political discourse on campus chilled, and our civic mission severely undercut.”
Additionally, the signers of the letter question the proposal’s validity under the law. The letter states: “Because of the broad definitions of ‘public communication,’ ‘candidate,’ and ‘clearly identified,’ we have serious doubts whether the proposed restrictions on speech are even constitutionally permissible under the First Amendment.”
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